The network will initially benefit 25 communities in five states, including several in New Mexico. Photo by Alex Proimos via Flickr
US President Joe Biden has launched a program to deploy federal government employees to rural areas to help local leaders access the resources they need to energize their communities.
The Rural Partners Network (RPN) is described by the White House as a “whole-of-government effort led by the United States Department of Agriculture to transform the way federal agencies partner with rural areas to create economic opportunity.”
The network will help distribute funds under Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. Adopted in November last year, it allocates $550 billion between 2022 and 2026 for infrastructure projects aimed at providing affordable high-speed internet access, clean water, “clean and reliable” electricity and better roads and bridges for rural communities across America.
“However, making resources available is not enough – the federal government must better serve rural communities, so they can take full advantage of these unprecedented opportunities,” the White House said.
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To do this, the network will place new federal field personnel placed in more than 25 rural communities – including tribal nations – by the end of May. The communities are spread across five states: Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New Mexico.
Working directly with local leaders to help them develop economic development plans and secure the funds needed to make them happen, these officials will also identify challenges that prevent rural communities from accessing federal support. This will inform the work of the Rural Prosperity Interagency Policy Council, a task force set up to ensure rural areas are prioritized in Washington. The board will direct policy changes based on input from network staff.
Washington’s door open to rural communities
Field staff will be employed by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) but will have a government-wide mandate. To connect them with Washington departments, 13 agencies will have a dedicated person or team “serving as a gateway” for RPN staff and local leaders as they work to boost rural economies.
Through this “direct line” between communities and Washington DC, the Biden administration said it would coordinate work between agencies to provide technical assistance to network beneficiaries, share rural data and success metrics, and align grant requirements.
The first 25 communities to benefit from the network were chosen by the USDA based on factors such as levels of economic distress and the willingness of local actors to participate in the program. The USDA held community engagement sessions with local government, businesses, and community group leaders as part of the selection process, and the communities themselves determined the composition of their networks.
The program is to be expanded beyond the initial five states and territories to include Nevada, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Alaska Tribal Communities by the end of August. If Congress approves funds requested by the president in his 2023 budget, the network will be expanded to “eventually serve all 50 states,” the White House said.
The federal government has yet to announce how many network employees will be employed.
Federal agencies and regional commissions participating in the Interagency Policy Council for Rural Prosperity include:
- agriculture department
- Commerce Department
- Department of Education
- Ministry of Energy
- Department of Health and Social Services
- Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Interior Department
- Ministry of Labour
- transport department
- Treasury Department
- Department of Veterans Affairs
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Small Business Administration
- Appalachian Regional Commission
- Delta Regional Authority
- Denali Commission
- Northern Frontier Regional Commission
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